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$3.1M SAFER grant will hire 17 firefighters, reduce overtime costs

Over the next six months, the Warwick Fire Department will bring aboard 17 new firefighters to give the department a full complement of 214 and enable the city to reduce overtime costs. It’s all thanks to a $3.1 million federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.

In preparing this year’s budget, the administration talked about the grant, and how it could help overtime costs that exceeded $3 million in the last fiscal year, but they did not count on it completely. According to Diane Brennan, city financial analyst, the administration projected funding for eight firefighters.“It’s going to be helpful,” she said. Because the department is currently running a training program, Chief Edmund Armstrong said he does not expect another training session to start until the first of the year. Training takes 18 weeks, meaning the added personnel would not be in place until April. Armstrong was surprised and pleased to win a grant for 17 firefighters. He credited the success of the process to the work of the mayor and the support of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation. The grant works in two ways to reduce costs – it pays for the salary and benefits for the additional firefighters and reduces the amount of overtime needed to maintain manning levels for all shifts. Armstrong wasn’t able to predict what it might amount to other than the grant will pay 17 salaries and benefits for the next two years.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said Friday that the department currently has 14 openings and another 15 “on the books and we weren’t filling them” for a total of 29 shy of 214.

The announcement was made Thursday in a coordinated release from U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representative Jim Langevin.

“This is great news for Warwick and I congratulate Chief Armstrong and his team and Mayor Avedisian,” Reed said. “We call on our firefighters in moments of crisis and they always answer that call. The hiring of additional firefighters will improve emergency response capabilities. Ensuring the Warwick Fire Department can maintain appropriate staffing levels will also help save money in the long run by reducing overtime costs.”

Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, wrote the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in support of Warwick’s application. The impetus for the grant came from five younger firefighters who volunteered their time as a grant writing committee, said Avedisian. In praising their efforts, Avedisian said “they worked really hard to make sure we got what we needed.” Overtime costs are driven by minimum manning requirements set by contracts that leave the administration no choice but overtime. In an agreement reached earlier this summer, firefighters increased their health care co-payments to an equivalent of about 20 percent while taking a 3-year pay freeze. The agreement did not change manning requirements.

“At a time when our cities and town are facing major fiscal constraints, this funding will be critical to ensuring the Warwick Fire Department has the resources to respond to emergency situations,” Langevin said in the release. “As we face difficult decisions about the makeup of the federal budget, our first responders must be a top priority.”

Whitehouse also stressed the significance of the SAFER grant.

“A fire department’s greatest asset is skilled frontline firefighters,” said Whitehouse. “At a time when many towns and cities are facing layoffs and cutbacks in critical services, this funding will help Warwick create good jobs and improve public safety.”

SAFER funding is a competitive grant program that is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration.

This is the second major federal grant Warwick has received this year. In March, Warwick Fire received a $683,451 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) to purchase a new aerial ladder truck to replace a 23-year-old vehicle.

16 comments on this item

What a joke....the fire dept gets a one year grant to cut overtime costs....that means the savings will only be for one year...we wouldn't need the grant if Avedisian would eliminate MINIMUM MANNING....

Avedisian actually taking a stand against the fire union....never happen.

Only would the Beacon (Avedisian's Marketing Arm) state the fire dept gave up a 3% raise....I didn't know they were entitled to a raise every year.

It's two years dumba$$... How do you eliminate minimum manning? It's called a contract.. Your so smart but have NO REAL ANSWERS...

Also where does it say it gave up a 3% raise. It says a 3 year pay freeze. You really should actually read the story before commenting.... Again more hot air....

So in essence, after the "grant" runs out in two years, the new employees will become new FTE's on the city payroll. The payroll will go up, the benefits must be paid so at some point taxes will also be taking a jump. The shell game continues. If I were an employee vested in the State pension system looking to retire in the next 3-5 years, well, can you say ENRON? Many municipalities are even worse. Can you say Central Falls?

They were going to have to hire them anyway, you got two years for free. I love when people complain about getting money. The government was going to give it out anyway glad we got it and WILL help the city out financially.

Well look at that, firefighters working extra hours for free, volunteering their time and effort to secure over three million dollars which will REDUCE OVERTIME while ensuring safe staffing levels. No surprise some here still find something to complain about. The city needed to hire these guys no matter what, you just got 17 free firefighter and a massive reduction in OT thanks to the free labor of rank and file firefighters who took it upon themselves to go above and beyond. The correct comment here should be simply: thank you.

The firefighters who post here don't understand that nothing is for free. That's the problem.......Our grandchildren will be paying for this grant...how dumb can they be.

Hey Stevie D .....why don't you shut up.....you been singing the union song for so long it is tiring....by the way the answer is to PRIVATIZE the fire dept....we'll get the same job done for much less money.

Haha, get me a list of people waiting to volunteer and I'll shut up. Do you know how long that list has to be for your ISO rating not to go through the roof. No I won't shut up. Hey next time maybe the grant will go elsewhere, and the city can pick up the whole price tag. You are really a moron for not understanding this concept....

I have never heard of PRIVATE Fire Depts? What's the name of the company?

Google some of the horror stories regarding privatized fire depts. Insanely slow responses, inadequate staffing leading to homes burning to the foundation, refusing to fight a fire because the owner didn't pay the fire dept subscription fee. Public safety should never be privatized, period. Irony even see if being cheaper because a for profit FD owner is going to want to make that PROFIT! Be careful what you wIsh for!

As for us firefighters not realizing its not free... No, technically it isn't free. What it is tho is an additional windfall from fed tax money you were going to pay regardless. Furthermore, RI has some of the lowest fed expenditure vs. fed tax paid ratios of all the states. Meaning much of our fed taxes go to aid programs in other states. It's nice to get some of the money we were spending at least back in our state helping our communities for a change.

Hey Stevie.....take off your fireman uniform and start facing the facts....we can no longer afford the Warwick Fire Dept...their benefits are out of control....you still haven't answered why they won't agree to eliminate the minimum manning provision in their contract

The fire dept is no longer a sacred cow...their expenses will be cut.

Hey fed up we are already staffed at levels well below national standards...

I've spoken at length about what minimum manning really is. You think it's a ploy for overtime. I can think of no better evidence that you are wrong than this very article. 3 rank and file firefighter on their own time won a grant for millions to ensure safe staffing levels and as a result REDUCE OVERTIME. Bash the WFD all you want, this article proves your baseless claims hold no water.

Did the firemen sleep the night before on the night shift? Probably....and just think they put in some free time....what a surprise....a union worker doing something anyone in private industry does everyday to secure their job....doing a little extra for nothing....a novelty for the warwick fire dept.

A little extra, to the tune of 3.1 million dollars that doesn't have to come from Warwick property taxes.

Fed up, what would you rather have fireman doing at 3am? If we have down time yes we can rest. We also work 48 hr shifts or more sometimes. It's the nature of the job, the article is about doing something good or the community yet you bash the men and women of the WFD. You know what they say jealousy is a bit@h....

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